Easter 1. John 20:19-31
It is Easter Sunday Evening and the 10 disciples are shut away in a room. It may well have been the upper room used for the last supper ~ or one very similar.
You would have thought the mood would have been one of excitement and celebration - after all Mary had seen the Lord, He had risen. John had seen the empty tomb and the folded grave clothes and had believed. However the reality of it had not yet dawned, hence they were shut away for fear of the Jews; they did not want to be crucified.
Then suddenly Easter Glory breaks in and Jesus is visible there in the middle of them. He immediately quells their fears and anxiety with the familiar greeting, 'Shalom'. The literal translation is more than just peace but also means well-being. Shalom gathers up all the blessings of the Kingdom of God.
His Shalom or peace on Easter evening is the complement of his cry ‘it is finished' on the cross on Good Friday. His Shalom is no ordinary 'hello' it is the supreme Easter Greeting.
Having spoken, Jesus is quick to reassure them he is not a ghost and offers his hands and side as evidence that it really is him. John records that the disciples were overjoyed to see him. You bet they were. I can just imagine they were ecstatic. Jesus was back it is all going to okay. Joy is the basic mood of Easter and I am sure Jesus joined in with the joyous festivities as well. But Jesus had come for a purpose. Not just reassurance and to reinforce that he had conquered death but something more.
He had come with their instructions. All their training with him was at an end here was the climax.
To get the mood right and calm them down Jesus again says that wonderful greeting. "Peace be with you"~ and then the commissioning:-
"As the Father sent me so I send you." The apostles were commissioned to carry on Christ's work - not instructed to start a new one.
This is what apostle means - one whom Jesus sends and accompanies. How comforting is that. So from that day till now the Church in every age is to be an apostolic one - sent and accompanied by Jesus.
Having commissioned them, he breathed on them, and they felt it. They could not do this on their own they needed the power of the Holy Spirit. Not to make them a ‘holier than thou’ group, not for a spiritual experience but for their total reliance on God the Holy Spirit. My daily prayer is to feel that breath of the Holy Spirit. I don't know about you, but if I am to be the person God wants me to be, an apostle, I need to know that Jesus has both sent and accompanies me, and to be constantly reminded that it is not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit says the Lord. And so he breathed on them. Christ breathed life into his fledgling Church which now, certain in his resurrection, was ready to carry his peace into the world outside that room.
We don't know any more detail, how long he stayed in the room with them, how did he go, how did they feel, what did they say.
The next instalment is a week later - and this time it involves Thomas.
Thomas, so like many of us if we are honest. He reacts in predictable form. Dour, dogged, stable Thomas who earlier had suggested they might as well go with Jesus if only to die with him. Thomas, resigned to the coming fate, but never the less he did show impressive loyalty. Thomas who could always be guaranteed to say what the others were probably thinking. Thomas who had complained that Jesus wasn't making things clear enough. 'How are we to know where you are going?'
The previous week, when all the other disciples had gathered together from their Good Friday hiding places, Thomas is somewhere else, he had missed seeing Jesus. Maybe his attitude and absence are linked somehow. Thomas wasn't going to be taken in by all this euphoria - he wanted concrete proof and he lays down his conditions before he will believe. And for that he has been typecast forever as Doubting Thomas. Not only did he doubt the resurrection but the reliability of his fellow disciples and the women.
Perhaps we should not be too hasty to write Thomas off as unbeliever -maybe there is a bit of Thomas in all of us.
Maybe there was a bit of spiritual jealousy in Thomas - why have they had this wonderful spiritual experience and I haven’t?
Maybe there was a bit of anger in Thomas - - the disciples might have seen Jesus, but it wasn't my fault if he came when I wasn't here -it's not fair.
Maybe there was a bit of resentment in Thomas 'why am I always the one that is left out?'
If we can identify with any of those attitudes we need to pray that Jesus will be as gracious to us as he was to Thomas.
One week later Jesus appeared to them again. Just so that Thomas didn't miss out on the blessing, Jesus gives them the same greeting. Shalom - all the blessings of the Kingdom of God be with you. If that wasn't enough for poor Thomas, there were to be two more wonders for him. First of all Jesus really is alive and is talking to him, and secondly all of Thomas's conditions are repeated back to him. Unless I put my hand in the wounds.. It was as if Jesus had overheard the conversation – the spiritual world is nearer than we think!
We will never know if Thomas acted upon Jesus invitation to put his finger into the wounds. I suspect not, there was no need. He believed and suddenly John's Gospel comes full circle.
It opens with the account of Jesus’ life - "In the beginning was the word and the word was God." At the end of the story, Thomas, not a failure but the first to declare "My Lord and my God. " Thomas brings the gospel round to when it started ~ he is the first with his breathtaking statement, and with his new found boldness and faith, he is the first person to look at Jesus and address him as God.
Thomas teaches us all a lesson. Faith is not always an easy straightforward affair - faith is a battle with doubts. There are grounds for faith all around us if we only open our eyes.
Lord I believe ~ help my unbelief . May the Lord help us to be more like Thomas, the man who struggled with his faith but was able to make the confession which is the foundation of the gospel ~ My Lord and my God.
The grave couldn’t keep Jesus in and the door cannot keep him out.
May we, today's disciples, make space, time, and an open door for every doubting Thomas to meet Jesus for themselves. If only today’s disciples who say we believe in the risen Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit would come out from behind those closed doors, then perhaps the rest of the world could confront its doubts.
Surely we must come out from behind the doors that we close,
and be open to God, open to be transformed into those bold-speaking,
earth-shaking, headline-making disciples whose Acts made it into Scripture, giving evidence and an open door for the doubting Thomases of the day. It's time the people inside the church came out, declared ourselves, and trusted God to travel with them into the world outside.
For once we were no people, but now we are Easter people, we have been bought with a price.
Now we have to carry on and finish the job the apostles started. The commission given to them on that that day will stand until Jesus comes again.
Even so come Lord Jesus.